I’ve been watching a lot of home improvement shows lately, mostly on the cable channel HGTV. This is mainly because my wife watches these shows a lot. HGTV is primarily aimed at people like her who believe that if the house today bears any resemblance whatsoever to what it looked like yesterday, it needs to be remodeled. Actually, the most popular of these shows, Trading Spaces, is on TLC. I’m sure it galls the people at HGTV to have dedicated 24/7 programming to home improvement and then have the most popular home improvement show on a network dedicated mainly to graphic depictions of grisly surgery, childbirth, and pet euthanasia.
The premise of Trading Spaces is that neighboring homeowners, abetted by diabolical professional decorators, desecrate rooms in one another’s houses. They festoon walls with cheap fabric, paint linoleum floors, and drag garbage in from the curb to use as “accessories.”
After watching these shows for a while, it’s possible to develop a short list of popular, money-saving ideas that may be used to desecrate one’s own residence. One of the most popular today is the use of what the decorators call “faux” finishes. “Faux” is an Armenian word that means “unsightly,” and the process involves desperate and invariably unsuccessful attempts to make the refuse that has been dragged in from the curb more presentable. Another use of faux finishing involves painting a wall or expensive piece of upholstered furniture a light color such as ecru, and then dabbing on a darker color, usually taupe, with a sponge. This has the unexpected effect of making the wall or sofa appear as though someone dabbed paint on it with a sponge.
Decorators also suggest faux finishes for surfaces that should be replaced, but can’t be because of a tight budget. For example, if you can’t afford a new kitchen counter top, you can make a design statement by giving it a faux finish. In this case, the statement is, “Try not to notice that I painted my counter top because it looked like hell and I couldn’t afford a new one.”
An entire decorating style has developed around the use of garbage to accessorize a living space. These days one doesn’t put things in the living room; one accessorizes the living space. The technique of bringing trash into the house and proudly displaying it in the living space is called “shabby chic.” A living space effectively decorated in this style immediately brings to mind the idea that there was a good reason the salvaged items were thrown out in the first place.
Another popular decorating technique is called “feng shui” (pronounced “I am hopelessly gullible”), an ancient Chinese “art” that shows how money may be separated from stupid people by making them believe that arranging their furniture properly can, well, separate them from their money.
There are also a lot of gardening and landscaping shows on HGTV. My own experience with decorative gardening boils down to a simple concept: When you plant something, it will probably die. Nothing I do will affect this outcome, which is somehow predetermined. You can follow the planting and feeding directions to the letter and the thing will still just die if it feels like it. Sometimes you’re better off if the plant does die. If the nursery tag on it says it is a “modest grower” and will be 2 feet high at maturity, this means it will be bigger than your house by the end of the summer and its roots will go through your sewer line like a hot knife through butter.
According to the HGTV shows I have seen, there are two things that every landscape design must have: a water feature and a touch of whimsy. “Water features” are similar to fountains, except that water features cost about $2000 more and are made from rusty 55-gallon drums that originally contained radioactive waste. As for “whimsy,” it’s important to have some “focal point” in the garden that’s mildly amusing. Not hilarious, mind you, because an effective garden plan should create an outdoor living space that makes it possible to be introspective and contemplative while communing with expensive dead shrubbery.
Now that I think about it, it seems most of what passes for interior (and exterior) decoration these days consists of what used to be considered garbage picking and acts of vandalism. The upside of it all is that if your living space is shabby, you can dab an ugly shade of paint all over everything, including the broken table your clueless neighbor threw out last week, and suddenly be very stylish.
For myself, I must admit that I’ve partially succumbed to the do-it-yourself craze, having chosen a project that involves taking an old coffee table and making a cable spool out of it; and by this I mean a cable spool with a whimsical faux finish that makes a statement, adds a touch of drama to the living space, and will be just the ticket for casual entertaining.
Or maybe I just need to watch more ESPN.